With new airports opening tomorrow and our Alert Level 3 regulations heralding in the return of business travel, you might be ready to pack your bags. Or not. Yesterday, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced that in addition to the original four main airports in South Africa that are currently operating, the following domestic airports will reopen from 01 July:
- Bram Fischer International Airport
- Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport
- Pietermaritzburg Airport
- Port Elizabeth International Airport
- Richards Bay Airport
- Skukuza Airport
- Upington International Airport
He added that meals will once again be available onboard. These meals must be pre-packed and placed in front of the seat for each passenger before the passenger boards the aircraft to minimise movement during flight.
This return of business travel may be keeping you up at night which it need not do so. According to Oz Desai, GM Flight Centre Business Travel’s GM, these may be some of your most pressing concerns, alongside some solutions.
- Health and Safety: What’s primary is that you may be concerned about putting the health of your family at risk if you travel. Its been reported that stringent safety measures have been put in place at all the airports that are operational to mitigate any health risks, including: only allowing air ticket holders into the terminal buildings (drop off and pick up only permitted outside); health screening (including temperature checks) on entry; strict social distancing measures (including self-scanning of boarding passes); and deep-cleaning and frequent sanitisation of terminal buildings and aircraft.
- Cabin Air Quality: The old ‘recycled air’ worry. Even pre-pandemic, travellers were concerned about coming down with colds and flu after a plane trip. Minister Mbalula has assured the travelling public that the risk of contracting COVID-19 on an aircraft is much lower than in other confined spaces and public transport. All aircraft are fitted with high-level HEPA filters that eliminate all viruses, including the coronavirus. According to FlySafair, HEPA filters successfully remove 99.999% of even the smallest viruses, including those measuring just 0.01 micrometres. The coronavirus family measures between 0.08 and 0.16 micrometres and therefore extracted by the HEPA filters very effectively.
- Masks: If you’re asking yourself if you’ll need to wear a mask for the entire trip, the answer is yes. Unfortunately, HEPA filters don’t negate the need for a mask. Think of it as just another layer of protection – both for you and others. Understandably, many travellers still balk at the idea of wearing a mask for any length of time. But as the weeks have gone by, masks have evolved and you can now get your hands on masks, which are designed to assist air flow, prevent fogging of glasses and sit comfortably on your face.
- Documentation Required: Desai says that business travellers can expect a little more admin in terms of the documentation required: “Passengers must have the correct travel documents with them before leaving home, this includes your ID and a permit to travel for business.” A professional travel consultant or travel management company (TMC) like FCBT will be able to help you navigate the new regulations with ease. “Unfortunately permits and permissions are necessary – at least for the foreseeable future,” says Desai, “Luckily TMCs are on hand to help, and can advise travellers on the documentation that is required, the different airline regulations and requirements as well as the safety guidelines put in place by hotels and other accommodation establishments.”
- The Question of Quarantine: Perhaps the biggest concern of all, is the idea that you would have to spend time in quarantine pre or post a trip. Although, not an issue when travelling within South Africa’s borders (unless a health check before departure warrants further investigation and self-quarantine), once international travel opens the threat of quarantine may well cause anxiety levels to rise! Some countries will allow self-quarantine, others will force passengers to go to government-directed facilities or pre-identified hospitals. For example, the UK is now enforcing a two-week quarantine period and passengers arriving in the UK by plane, ferry or train – including UK nationals – will be asked to provide an address where they will self-isolate for 14 days. Travellers will also need to understand South Africa’s approach when returning from ‘high-risk’ countries.
- What you can do: One still needs to protect oneself by adhering to the protocols and measures put in place – including wearing a mask for the duration of your journey and using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Always keep a travel-sized (max 100ml) bottle on you. Your journey will look quite different to what you are used to, from physical distancing around baggage carousels to the PPE worn by the cabin crew. And while this might invoke some anxiety, it should also bring peace of mind. All the protocols put in place are to protect your health, follow the guidelines, play your part and you should have very little to worry about.
Again, a TMC will have the most up-to-date information and advice. According to Desai, “Booking your own travels is all good until something goes wrong. Get a reputable TMC to book your travels – and get you home safely.”
It’s sound advice. Other tips to ease anxiety? Confirm your flight details in advance, make sure to check-in online – and get to the airport early. You’ll need to allow a couple of hours for security and health checks. But follow the health and safety guidelines in place and you’ll be all set for a safe and successful trip.